The Potential Contribution of Offsetting to the EA’s 2030 Net Zero Target

17th May 2021

A new report we have produced for the Environment Agency reviews the opportunities for carbon offsetting in its efforts to reach Net Zero by 2030, and how they fit into wider decarbonisation strategies.

The project was funded by the Environment Agency as part of its investigation into the role of carbon offsetting and was delivered by a group we led including 3Keel, the University of Hertfordshire and the Royal Agricultural University.

The Environment Agency’s 2030 Net Zero target consists of a commitment to reduce emissions by a minimum of 45% and to use best practice offsetting techniques to address the remaining emissions.

Currently, only woodland and peatland offsetting projects have certification mechanisms in the UK – the Woodland Carbon Code and the Peatland Code. The review contributes to the considerable discussion over appropriate forms of offsetting in the UK, both those currently in place and those that have a potential to become part of the offsetting landscape in the future.

The review explores 17 approaches which you can see in the infographic below.

The evidence collected as part of the review identified a number of considerations for the viability of these approaches to be used as part of a wider carbon offsetting strategy, including:

  • GHG removal: The potential for different approaches to support greenhouse gas (GHG) removal is important, and different approaches have different impacts, with woodland approaches holding high GHG removal potential compared to low potential from agri-management regimes.
  • Permanence: The long-term presence of some offsetting approaches cannot be guaranteed. For example, agri-management regimes could be easily reversed by reintroducing tilling, while some habitats that store carbon could be threatened by the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, increased risk of flooding and drought.
  • Speed of impact: The rate at which carbon is offset will differ between approaches. Approaches such as woodland restoration can take longer to achieve the desired offsets. Some novel offsetting approaches, such as household decarbonisation can have an immediate impact, though the additional impact from these approaches is likely to diminish over time.

Our research showed that ultimately, to achieve true Net Zero, offsetting needs to move towards GHG removal approaches. However, in the short term, particularly in light of targets to reach Net Zero by 2030, a range of offsetting measures that reduce the amount of GHGs in the atmosphere could form a useful part of decarbonisation efforts.

Enabling the range of offsetting approaches outlined in our review, will require a number of actions, including: the creation of certification standards for new approaches; and increasing the scientific evidence base for most of the offsetting approaches reviewed (e.g. floodplains, salt marshes, seagrass and kelp restoration).

The Environment Agency will now use the information gathered by our review to feed into the development of its 2030 Net Zero Strategy, considering how it can use its own estate and partnerships to support GHG removals, taking into account the need for a diversity of approaches given the considerations outlined by our review.

You can view the full review on Gov.uk.

Image courtesy of Walter Baxter via geograph.org.uk (CC BY SA 2.0)